Sunday, December 7, 2008

Today my mom was watching some movie about people meeting each other online, and I was tired of studying and sat down and begged to know what was going on. Almost immediately after I started watching it, in the course of these two people trying to talk to each other without revealing any personal facts about their lives, I Ching was mentioned.

After briefly considering how likely it was that John Cage wrote the script, I started wondering exactly how much of yourself you can keep out of your work or hobbies, and though we have talked about this in class it is still very much open to debate. Until the day we discussed how I Ching itself worked, I thought Cage simply assigned a note to each number and wrote down whatever got thrown. To learn that he had to interpret each symbol throws a new light on the matter. Exactly how personal can an interpretation be? We project our own experiences, our emotions, our opinions on anything we view, as much as we may try to be objective in a matter. The way we interpret a story relies on how we visualize the story and how it plays out.

Take, for example, "The Lady or the Tiger." For anybody who hasn't read the story, I don't remember it exactly, but in the end a man is put in an arena with two doors to choose from. Behind one door is a woman who will be forced to marry him if he chooses her door. Behind the other, a hungry tiger is waiting to maul him. His lover is in the crowd and knows what is behind each door. She indicates which door he should choose and he picks it. The end. We don't find out what was behind the door he chose; its up to the reader to decide. Will his lover watch him marry another woman, or would she rather see him die? There equal evidence in each direction, waiting to be interpreted to support one cause or the other. It all depends on how the reader interprets, and since there are no clues, this leads to the individual relying on his or her own experience and personality. What would you do? Cage doesn't pose us with moral dilemmas, and this story can't be determined by chance operations as it is designed to prove that our opinions influence the way we understand things.

Certainly, then, Cage's understanding of the I Ching was influenced by his preferences in at least a minimal way. It seems to be impossible to leave himself out of his work, if only that his philosophy of staying independant from the composition shines so brightly through to the music. This definite and supposedly strict guidelines he imposes on his compositions give a stronger character to his works than many pieces composed by artists trying to put themselves in their music. His music is almost immediately recognized by anyone with an interest in experimental music. Wouldn't that mean that he is strongly present in his music, rather than removed from it? Even more than his philosophy behind the music, it would stand to reason that by interpreting the I Ching, he put some degree of his own opinions into the notes in the composition.

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